February is Heart Health Month, an ideal time to focus on healthy habits to protect your heart and avoid things that can harm it. These include sitting too much, eating high-sodium foods, and stress. Get back on track with habits that protect your heart. Try these tips:
Keep moving! Even if you exercise for an hour a day, the fact is that prolonged sitting itself has been associated with worse health outcomes, including heart disease. Try to move every hour, if possible. Stand up and sway from one foot to the other while folding laundry, walk while on the phone, dance during TV commercials, etc.
Focus on fiber. Eating more soluble fiber foods like apples, peas, beans, bran, oatmeal, barley, nuts, and seeds could help you keep your heart healthy. Studies have found that high-fiber foods can reduce cholesterol, blood pressure and inflammation.
Cut back on salt. Just one heavy, high-sodium meal can elevate blood pressure. Aim to pile your plate with salad and vegetables first to help limit your salt intake. Use herbs and spices to flavor your food.
Curb “over-snacking.” Try these tips: If you’re craving a snack, divert your attention–get up and drink some water. Limit your snack choices to fresh fruit or veggies, air-popped popcorn, or no-added-sugar fruit pops. Or portion out a single (small!) serving of chips and put the rest away. Better yet, limit bringing snacks into the house in the first place!
Keep stress in check. Stress constricts blood vessels, which can raise blood pressure and releases the hormone cortisol, which encourages the storage of body fat and is linked to hardening of the arteries, heart attack and stroke. While you may not be able to control a traffic jam or other stressful situation, you can quiet your body’s response. Listen to relaxing music, take slow deep breaths, or look up at the clouds and let worries float away.
Sleep well. Turn off that exciting TV series, shut down your devices, and aim to get at least 7 to 9 hours of sleep nightly. Adults who sleep less than 7 hours each night are more likely to have health problems and raise their risk for heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.
Do your daily floss! Flossing helps remove bacteria from the gums, which can travel to the bloodstream, inflame blood vessels, and cause other heart problems. See your dentist every 6 months for checkups.
While February serves as a good reminder to stay on top of heart health, these vital organ needs care all year long. Making these tips part of your lifestyle can go a long way in keeping your heart as healthy as possible.